5G – Safety concerns continue

Report and commentary

Please note: The following contains many links for your reference and further research. The Buzz advises visitors to read the following blog post all the way through – ignoring hot links – and then return to pick and choose which links you want to click.

The 5G wireless network currently being rolled out around the world and across New Zealand is getting a bad rap from people who claim the radiation this system emits is not good for our health.

Ask a telco about your 5G concerns and they’ll likely point you to someone else’s report that will conclude that, on the balance of probabilities, 5G will likely cause you, your pets or plants, no harm.

Well that’s a lot different to the CEO of a teleco standing up and saying “our products and services have been independently tested and are 100% safe to use”.

One reason might be that insurance companies are apparently refusing to insure telecom firms against 5G related health claims (should there be any).

What do insurance firms know that we don’t? How often have you heard that an insurance firm has declined to insure something? It is rare, because insurance is a gamble and the house always wins. And insurance companies even take out insurance themselves against losing a bad bet.

Should shareholders of telcos be informed that telcos are opening themselves up to an uninsured risk?

It appears that no one is saying outright, hand on heart, that 5G technology has been consumer tested, verified as safe by an independent body (not funded by telecom firms), and is guaranteed not to cause any harm. The Bio Initiative report is worth a read.

What we have never had before is a fog of 5G wireless up and down every street. Should the public be consulted about this? I think so. Is the public even asking for 5G? No, not as far as I know.

There are clearly some industry supporters posting comments on social media saying that 5G is safe; but they are distanced – by accident or design – from the telecom firms.

My feeling is people are being paid by telcos to post positive things about 5G on social media and call anyone who challenges that proposition a nutter; offering them a tin foil hat. These people do not declare their professional interest when posting positive comments about 5G.

In fact, mobile phone technology has never been tested in the same way pharmaceuticals or food are – or children’s toys. Everything we buy is tested to check it causes no harm. Except wireless / wifi products.

As far as I know, they are only tested to see how hot they make you. The so-called ‘thermal or heating effect’. And that test is based on a bruising hulk of a man (SAM) using a phone for a few minutes 20 years ago. A lot has changed; and some scientists now claim the old regulations are out of step with modern technology.

So that causes me to put a question mark over 5G. It may be feint, but it is an issue of concern for me none-the-less.

Trees removed

Telecom firms have invested a lot of cash in 5G. Driverless cars will need unencumbered line-of-sight 5G wireless signals to work, and that in turn has led to claims of trees being cut down for fear they may interfere with 5G signals.

Telecom firms will tell you that if trees are determined to be a problem then they will consult with the public (before chopping them down anyway). Have you noticed any trees being removed from your street for no good reason?

Well…some of the reasons I have heard include them not being native, are old or diseased. Who decides?

The issue is that while 5G can handle lots of data very fast; the 5G signal is not strong and cannot penetrate foliage or trees. That’s another reason why 5G transmitters – small cells – will be placed on every lamppost in your street. Critics say there will be no escape from 5G wireless signals.

See section 3.1 of this White Paper from Surrey University in the UK explains why trees are a problem for 5G.

Crowd control

Then there are claims that the millimeter wave technology that 5G is capable of has been used for crowd control by the military in some countries.

That’s not to say that this level of technology is being deployed along our streets at the moment. Although I am sure the authorities in Hong Kong and France wish they had it. Some people in Hong Kong have used angle grinders to cut down lampposts with small cells on them.


5G can be used to track mobile phones in real time and enable facial recognition cameras to be used across the country. It can do this because the 5G system is lightning fast.

And there has been talk in New Zealand of connecting council-owned security cameras direct to the police network. Even Auckland Transport wants to install 6000 facial recognition cameras across its network. Video doorbell firm Ring is also sharing it’s customers’ footage with police. Could private security CCTV networks be next?

There’s more. Have you seen ads appear on your phone about products you are interested in buying?

Is the phone listening to you? Don’t know. Is it tracking your online searches? Probably. What it is doing though is tracking you as you go window shopping and it compares your movements and location to a street map and local shops thanks to GPS data.

If you stop to look in a shop window then that is recognised; and GPS data can pin-point the name and type of shop you are browsing. Stop at enough travel agents and you can expect to see adverts for holidays to appear on your phone. It can almost seem as though the phone is reading your mind.

Government has a vested interest

Is 5G safe? I don’t know. Nor do you, and perhaps the telecom firms don’t know either.

Don’t look to government to protect you. It has given telcos a free reign to install cell towers where ever they want – no questions asked.

One reason for this is that governments sell radio frequencies (as if they own them) to broadcasters such as telcos and radio stations. These frequencies can raise millions of dollars for governments. It’s literally money for nothing.

But lots of people; scientists, doctors, and some authorities – Brussels, Switzerland – are concerned. Auckland council has also been asked to investigate.

What about the World Health Organisation (WHO)? It says: “To date, no adverse health effects from low level, long term exposure to radio frequency or power frequency fields have been confirmed, but scientists are actively continuing to research this area.”

I wonder how WHO define ‘low level’ and ‘long term’? Is a 5G transmitter outside your front door low level? It’s certainly long term – being on 24/7. However, in 2014 WHO published a report saying wireless radio waves from mobile phones might cause cancer. That opinion hasn’t changed.

Mobile phone wireless radio waves might cause cancer. Or they might not. Government and telcos are rolling the dice and you take the risk.

Please read this and this Guardian report. This report concludes that mobile phone use can cause headaches and a loss of concentration. If a mobile phone causes some people memory loss, what will 5G do?

Public health issue / Environmental health

Is the roll out of 5G ultimately a public health issue? The NZ Ministry Health doesn’t seem to think so.

Minister of Broadcasting Kris Faafoi (under the 52nd Parliament) said 5G meets the current guidelines. But what if the guidelines are not fit for purpose?

Are man-made radio waves an environmental health issue, are these invisible radio waves no different than chemical pollution from a factory or chemical plant? Are the rules and laws by which telcos operate based on flawed assumptions?

Nuremberg Code

There is a difference between someone saying something isn’t known to be dangerous against someone saying something is safe. Just because Asbestos wasn’t known to be dangerous didn’t mean it was safe to use – we know better today.

We know for a fact smoking cigarettes is a risk to our health, even though this was denied as ‘unproven’ by manufacturers for decades. Still, plenty of people who smoked did develop lung cancer among other fatal diseases.

How about lead in paint and petrol? Recent issues with Vaping? Asbestos? Chemicals used for fire-fighting. Morning sickness pill Thalidomide and numerous other pharmaceuticals? All assumed to be safe until years after they were introduced.

If the 5G technology has not been proven 100% safe to use then are we entering a period of mass human experimentation? Could it be that in 20 years’ time 5G cells are turned off followed by much wringing of hands as manufacturers and government say sorry following a public inquiry?

Do we have informed consent for the roll out of 5G? Read more here and a WHO report here.

Property values reduced by 10%

Then we have the issue of real estate values; how much will a home be devalued because of a cell transmitter being outside? This article is very interesting; featuring commentary by ReMax real estate agent Tina Canaris in 2010.

The article, written by Civil Rights lawyer Andrew J. Campanelli says that if your home is near a cell antenna, the value of your property is going down at least 4%.

“Depending on the size of the tower and the proximity, it is going down 10%,” adds Campanelli.

Common sense tells us that while some people won’t mind buying a home close to a cell transmitter, others will. Therefore, the number of potential buyers for any given property could be reduced. Not only that; those buyers who are prepared to live close to a cell transmitter could use its location as a bargaining tool to reduce the purchase price.

However, it has been established that if people create enough noise, telcos may just back off.

Precautionary principle

Unfortunately; according to one extensive paper about the adoption of the precautionary principle: “New Zealand’s approach to implementing the principle domestically has from the start been fundamentally flawed”.

The report by Dale Peter Scott adds that New Zealand’s “failure to operationalize the precautionary principle and establish a structured uniform approach to applying it, can lead to its misapplication”.

He writes: “In the consenting context, this can in turn result in the approval of activities that cause significant and irreversible harm.

“Such an outcome operates to undermine the ability of the legislative environmental management regime that it is applied under, to serve its overall purpose of sustainable management and associated objectives (e.g. intergenerational equity and maintenance of the life supporting capacity of ecosystems).

“In light of the above, it is imperative that New Zealand operationalises the domestic formulations of the precautionary principle, which are applied under the various legislative regimes that it features in and establishes a robust and uniform approach to its application.”

As you might expect The World Health Organisation has written about the precautionary principle.

The report notes: “Irreparable mistakes must be avoided, such as those related to tobacco or asbestos, when people waited for definitive evidence far too long before springing to action. Further, irremediable chains of events leading to health damage must be prevented from being triggered.”

PDFs to download

  • World Health Organisation on The Precautionary Principle: PDF here
  • Why trees are an issue for 5G – white paper from Surrey University in the UK.
  • The Precautionary Principle in New Zealand PDF: here
  • French court on cell phone masts in urban areas: PDF here
  • The Guardian’s mobile phone / cancer report as a PDF here
  • US research links cell phone radiation to cancer: PDF here
  • WHO study; electromagnetic fields possibly carcinogenic to humans: PDF here
  • Why telcos may not have public liability insurance for electromagnetic radiation health claims: PDF here (if you know of a better version of this document or have a fuller version then please let me know. Do you have a friend who works at Lloyds?)
  • Dr Devra-Davis of Melbourne University – presentation slides on mobile phone radiation PDF here

For more commentary; listen to this podcast by Tim Lynch…

Tim’s website is here

See below for former Green MP Russell Norman’s take why telcos can do what they like

Former New Zealand Green MP Russell Norman

When Dr Russell Norman was a Green MP in the New Zealand Parliament he wrote about cell tower installation; and explained how telcos can do what they like without public consultation.

The law is on their side thanks to a Labour Government decision on 8 September 2008 when it enacted The National Environmental Standard.

The Labour Government took advice from companies with a vested interest in installing cell towers when drawing up the ‘standard’. In short, corporations have the upper hand over the people.

Dr Norman’s post on the Green Party website has been taken down; likely after he left to join Greenpeace. But for reference, an archive link is here. However, it is also posted in full below…



I went to a hastily organised public meeting up the hill from my house last night about a proposed cellphone tower in Hataitai, Wellington. Vodafone want to put a cellphone tower on top of a street light pole among a bunch of houses near the school.

Vodafone only notified two local residents, and they in turn notified some of the local community – one of those notified was Fiona Kidman and she ended up in the DomPost yesterday about it. 

The meeting at the school, organised at short notice, had 30 or so people at it. They resolved to ask Vodafone to talk to the community about the tower before they built it. We were fortunate to have someone come along from the fight over towers in Titahi Bay to give us some support and advice.

Health and precaution

The issue of concern is the potential health risk associated with chronic exposure to non-ionising radiation, or radio frequency radiation, being emitted by these towers, or basestations. A French Court, for example, forced a telecommunications company to take down a cellphone tower in 2009.

While the scientific discussion remains inconclusive, the company Bouygues Telecom has not demonstrated in the present case either the absence of risk nor the respect of any principle of precaution. Considering that, while the reality of the risk remains hypothetical, it becomes clear from reading the contributions and scientific publications produced in debate and the divergent legislative positions taken in various countries, that uncertainty over the harmlessness of exposure to the waves emitted by relay antennas persists and can be considered serious and reasonable

There is a lot of evidence out there that casts some uncertainty over the safety of these masts and enough uncertainty to suggest a precautionary approach to the issue.

And yet, as I will demonstrate, NZ’s approach has been the exact opposite of the precautionary principle. How cellphone towers are put up in our neighbourhoods is a case study in how corporations exercise power and how the Labour Party is complicit in this.

Your rights and Labour’s NES

The extraordinary fact is that you have no legal right to have any say over the placement of cellphone towers on street poles on the road reserve. You have no legal right to stop them putting a cellphone mast one metre outside your kids’ bedroom if that’s where the street pole is. Period.

Your legal rights were all removed by the Labour Govt by regulation on Sept 8, 2008.

Labour removed all of your legal rights while calling it something rather positive sounding they did it by enacting a National Environmental Standard. Sounds good doesn’t it; say it aloud and you’ll feel positive about our government:  National Environmental Standard.

Trevor Mallard was the so-called Minister for the Environment who  pushed through this so-called National Environmental Standard (NES) for Telecommunications Facilities.

The NES says that, so long as the telcos meet certain rules around the size of the cellphone towers and boxes, and meet a NZ Standard (NZS 2772) on the radiation coming out of the equipment, the telcos don’t have to get any permission from the local council or the residents to put up as many cellphone towers as they like on street poles on the road reserve. You can read the cabinet papers here.

Normally you think of an environmental standard as a minimum standard of environmental protection. Instead this standard is a maximum standard councils are not allowed, for example, to say that they want to have a more precautionary approach to radiation in their district and require the towers emit less radiation than they are allowed to under this NES.

I think it’s wrong to impose a maximum standard of protection. If a local community, as represented by their elected council, wants to reduce the radiation coming out of cellphone base stations in their area then they should be allowed to.

Telcos and the NES

Now, Labour’s NES is pretty draconian, forcing people to accept devices around their homes and schools that continuously emit radiation, so if you were going to impose such a draconian set of rules on people, you’d want to be pretty confident that independent people with a strong health focus wrote the rules wouldn’t you?

Think again. According to the Parliamentary Library, Labour got the following people together to form the Telecommunications Industry Reference Group which wrote the report which formed the basis of the NES:

  • Alistair Dixon, TelstraClear Limited
  • Chris Horne, Incite (Auckland) Limited, Resource Management Consultant for Telecom
  • Christine Turner, formerly Telecom New Zealand Limited
  • David Willetts, Enfocus Planning Limited Ministry for the Environment Consultant
  • Harry Hopkinson, Telecom New Zealand Limited
  • Ian Hutchings, Ministry of Economic Development
  • Irene Clarke, Local Government New Zealand
  • Karl Mischewski, Vodafone New Zealand Limited
  • Pat Holm, Local Government Advisory Group
  • Poul Israelson, Harrison Grierson, Resource Management Consultant for Vodafone and TelstraClear
  • Richard Hawke, Ministry of Economic Development
  • Sally Gilbert, Ministry of Health.

As you can see there was just a single person who was there to represent a health perspective, the rest were either the telcos, or govt agencies supporting the telcos,. or local govt. The telcos had an interest in lowering the cost of putting up towers, the government departments were there to help lower costs, and Local Govt NZ was not there as a health expert. It was a jack up.

Labour then used the report of these people as the basis of the National Environmental Standard. Feeling safe and secure?

The NZ Standard

But I hear you say, what about the New Zealand Standard 2772 that underpins the NES. That’s gotta be legitimate right? I mean a New Zealand Standard just sounds solid and proper doesn’t it? We’re the most uncorrupt country on the planet, surely a New Zealand Standard, is the gold standard of health protection?

OK here is the group that decided on the New Zealand Standard, 1999 Radiofreqequency Fields, Part 1, Maximum Exposure Levels, 3kHz to 300 GHz (according to the list at the front of the standard):

  • Adopt Radiation Control
  • Broadcast Communications NZ
  • Local Govt NZ
  • Ministry of Commerce
  • National Radiation Lab
  • NZ Assoc of Radio Transmitters
  • NZ Inst of Occupational and Environmental Medicine
  • Telecom NZ

Again, another committee dominated by industry and government departments with one health professional. A group dominated by those trying to reduce costs for telcos.

The telcos, and government departments supporting the telcos, wrote the New Zealand Standard that underpins the NES, and guarantees its safety. Or does it guarantee its safety? It has this rather disturbing little disclaimer at the start:

There is scientific research, including epidemiology, which has suggested associations between some adverse health effects and exposure to RF [radio frequency] fields at levels lower than the basic restrictions specified in this Standard, however causation has not been shown.

So they haven’t guaranteed that it’s safe. You may remember this language it is the same language that the tobacco industry used about smoking. They were forced to agree that there was a correlation between smoking and disease but quite correctly said you can’t prove causation. Of course eventually causation was established but the tobacco industry used exactly this argument for years to fight off attempts to regulate tobacco.

The NZS 2772 Committee said that, while there was uncertainty as to the safety of radiation from these cellphone towers, they would continue to monitor the results of this research and, where necessary, issue amendments to this document.

That was in 1999. There has been only one minor amendment in November 1999, which looks like a correction but has no explanation. So much for amending and updating the Standard. It hasn’t changed.

Now the paper on which this NZS 2772 relies is by the International Commission on Non-ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNRP) from 1998. Yet, there has been lots of research questioning the level of radiation allowed by the ICNRP in the more than a decade since it was written but the ICNRP standard has remained unchanged. A number of countries have abandoned the ICNRP standard and have required lower radiation levels from the towers. But not NZ.


So, in 1999, a committee dominated by the telcos and the Ministry of Commerce wrote the NZ Standard 2772 that set the levels of radiation allowed from cellphone towers. Then a committee dominated by the telcos and MED used this NZ Standard as the basis for the National Environment Standard that the Labour Government adopted in 2008.

This NES forces us all to have cellphone towers on any street pole in the country without any legal right to object regardless of how close it is to people’s houses or schools.

I would wager that 99% of New Zealanders know almost nothing about this story and if they did they would be furious. But they will only find out when the tower goes up, and that happens pole by pole.

The Government should have protected us from the telcos and operated a precautionary approach, instead they did their dirty work and willfully tied the hands of citizens and councils. The corporations have taken hold of our government, and Labour happily acquiesced.

If the Nats really wanted to show that they weren’t in the pockets of the telcos like Labour, they could publicly review the NES and the NZ Standard, but I don’t like the chances.


Steve Hart is a writer and podcaster.